The fine bindings on books protect the contents from handling and harm, preserving their contents and beauty. The bindings also serve as part of the book's history and character, revealing unique insights about the tome's provenance. Fine bindings also point to the status and wealth of the original owners.
The earliest bound books can be traced to 1st century codices, which were the brainchild of the Romans; they borrowed their ideas from the outgrowth of a library war in the 3rd century B.C. between the bibliophiles at Pergamon and Alexandria. Early Christians quickly adopted the format for their own works, and scholars believe that the spread of Christianity in the later centuries encouraged its adoption in other parts of Europe. Collectors interested in bookbinding may wish to read The British Library Guide to Bookbinding: History and Techniques by Philippa Marks. In this comprehensive work, Marks unravels the history of bookbinding and elaborates on various styles of the craft.
However, fine binding books can be found in many cultures and time periods. For example, Japanese bookbinding has a long history, with its origins set in the 8th century A.D. One of the earliest styles, orihon (folding books), provided the foundation for the development of hand-sewn books, retchoso. Collectible fine bindings require some awareness of the history and construction of books. Kojiro Ikegami's Japanese Bookbinding: Instructions From A Master Craftsman reveals the traditional Japanese secrets of fine binding. Henry Petroski's The Book on the Bookshelf leads the reader on a bibliocentric adventure like no other; by tracing the origins of bookbinding, Petroski reveals in lavish detail how we moved from parchment scrolls to the beautifully bound vertical volumes on our shelves today.
Bibliophiles who buy fine bindings will find that their durability and beauty define a collection. Fine bindings are a treasure to hold and a marvel to study.